tv [untitled] August 18, 2013 8:30pm-9:01pm PDT
continue to fulfill the rights. [ applause ] >> thank you very much. i would like to thank the board of supervisors and the mayor's office as well. i would like to share with the public defenders. ken is here and as well as dave from the public defenders office. [ applause ] >> i'm sorry. ron from the santa clara's office. key note speaker. this came out yesterday on the anniversary. she's a contributing editor and
writer at the washington magazine. her work has appeared in the nation, news day, new york times, mother jones, village boys, salon -- and author of two other books home fires burning, married to military for better or worse. she had traveled all over the country for a year-and-a-half to cover at the quality of the indigent today. she had to travel the count country to get here today. she came from maryland. we are very excited she's here. her well recent investigation shows inadequacy of our legal system. let's welcome her. [ applause ]
>> hi, thanks for having me. i'm very excited to be here, if a bit sleepy. as he said, my new book was really an effort to take the temperature of public defense across the country and i visited a lot of public defenders offices, watched a lot of trials and discovered that there was a crisis in the court's that probably all of you are well aware of and really tried to dig in and find out what was going on and where all these problems were arising that we didn't have equal justice 50 years after gideon. what i would like to do is read a little section of the book first and talk for a few minutes and read a brief section. so, the section i'm going to
read is in the conclusion because it's about public defenders in a conference i went to with public defenders since i thought there were probably quite a few of you in the audience, you might find it musing. i don't know. the national defenders association opened the conference in washington dc in 2011 addressed the crowd of 300 public defenders with a room with space for many more. does society demonize you? of course. do they suggest you are working for the wrong people? of course they do do they suggest you are work for thugs? of course they do but the work do you is vital and critical because it's rest to
get justice on our legal system. his voice rose in volume and picked up speed and told the audience they ought to consider themselves as super heroes. it was an interesting observation. the public defenders and attorneys sprinkled in the hall that day were the designs of wrinkled clothes, no prada shoes. the man were the kind i had sat behind in too many courtrooms as a reporter over the years. worn tweed jackets and hair cuts that might have been sharp there months ago but now curled into collars of their blazers, no iron shirts. the women at the conference also wore their
standard trial attire. the jacket that told them it was serious work though it came from marshals. the canvas book bags from barnes & noble. it was possible that shiny span dekz super powers. but it was a stretch. what die son was up to clearly was trying to rally the crowd to commitment to popular work. the losing cause, the rights of the indigent. this was a telling moment for me. indicative of a sense from every single person i spoke to at this national conference roughly 50 over the course of several days that good work was possible for public defenders across the nation but the
greater context for which they labor order made it few in effort. attorneys left in a blaze of fury until they out after a few years. carol d -- is a public defenders office. 21 hardworking public defenders in new orleans are let go and greg bright, i'm going to read you an excerpt about his case. an attorney returned to england after several years of immersion in the program. after 30 years decided not to seek
reelection. joseph ramon quit in frustration after trying his first death penalty case. is j ramon here? he's in the back. he actually, we talked afterwards a couple months. he works in a bar. he drinks a lot less as a bartender than as a public defender. in some ways dawson's speech has missed the mark. most of the public defenders are not particularly interested in being vigilante soup heroes. they want back ups thechl they want to work in the existing framework to protect the clients rights and they want the time and resources to do their jobs right without having to reduce
to heroics. they needed more time with their clients if they want to properly represent them. clients don't trust the system. a federal public defender in nevada for years. you can be the the best representation but the clients don't see it. clients are asking do i trust you enough to tell you the truth of what happened? i need that information so i can see for example is this a self defense case. there has to be enough time to create a relationship, is she said. that's where the the difference is between rich and poor. the rich because they are paying for their time will have as much time with their lawyer as they need. ". it's a serious thing that they know the system is broken. and the criminal justice across the united states acknowledge deep
flaws in the way representation is provided to people. eric also spoke to the american council of chief defender in 2009. we know they lag far behind other justice programs. they constitute about 3 percent of all criminal justice expenditures in our nations largest counties." i'm going to skip ahead. we interview lawyers, who fire appropriate motions and do many other things that attorneys should be able to do as a matter of course. finally we know there are numerous challenges in the public defense system like budget shortfalls. he acknowledged the challenges the system faced
were not new and quoted justice hugo black when gideon came before the supreme court. there can be no equal justice when a trial a man gets can be a pile of money he has. what can be do? he asked the audience. the question resonates, echoing and bouncing off the walls where a player knows what needs to be done to fix the problem but no one can generate the political will necessary to change things. 50 years after combid gideon rights e eludes us. i want to a break from the reading and talk about why that issue is so hard for people to grasp and why reform efforts have been stymied. it's been
interesting for me reporting on this last year-and-a-half and trying to talk to people at the water cooler and a bar, my friends at dinner parties, whatever, and i would just say the words indigent defense and people's eyes would glaze over and they are like what is that? what does that have to do with me. even the word indigent. i started use is poor people. it's hard for people to understand why this issue matters. in the course of my reporting over a year-and-a-half, all the experts in the legal system, i would always end my interviews with the same question, which is, so you have this problem, why is it so hard to fix? why is it so hard for people to understand this need? what i got a lot of different answers, but i think what i really discovered was that for most
people who don't live in this world that all of you live in which is working as public defenders or advocates or in the criminal justice system, you know a lot about these issues and you know what the stakes are and you are meeting real people everyday when you go out into courtrooms or into jails. you are seeing these people and you are understanding, you are hearing their stories and understanding their lives and understanding what the stakes are for people in terms of creating a fair system. most americans don't have that experience. and the whole idea, you say it's not fair, i think people respond to that, but it's hard for them to see that. i think it's hard for them to visualize because they are not seeing these real faces and not hearing these stories. even when we looked at the video and poster which is great for this conference which is gideon's picture. there was something about seeing his face
as a real person and that personalizing of the issue that makes people respond in a profound way. so i think in terms of reforming a system or any problem that you are trying to resolve, there are two levels in which that works on and as a journalist i try toggle back and forth between these two things. how do you get an emotional response from people. people are moved to action by stories. they are moved to action by people's real life experiences when they see somebody, when they feel it, when it's a narrative, when it's a compelling story and the second part of that is understanding and sharing with people the complexities of the problem so they can understand how to act, what needs to be done to reform the system. and so, one of the things i would really like to encourage people here to do is to take this next
year as an opportunity when there is attention focused on this issue to take your own stories, or the stories of your clients outside of your insular world and share them with the public. and that may mean rethinking the way you talk even sometimes about these issues. like, people say the word parody between a prosecutors office and public defenders office. the public doesn't know what that means. so a level playing field or even words like individual, just say people, right? don't try to remove the people you are talking to from the heart and soul of your experiences or your clients experiences. so, i think there is a real opportunity this year and across the country, there are people who have been very involved in efforts to reform
the system who are doing a full court press, this year, right? there are class action suits. people are attacking this from every angle. but i do think that one critical aspect is generateing the political will for the reform. when the politicians some law & order politician goes on and on with this lock em up mentality and people nod their heads. if people are better educated about these issues they will call the people on the carpet and say wait a minute. i think the mission, if i can give you that, would be to step outside your circle, your work circle and bring this issue to the broader public so they can create a change in the culture
and the public's response to these issues that will then enable the politicians and legislators to make the reforms to the finances and the court's etc that really need to happen and one way i think is a good way to do that and i'm talking, i'm a journalist, an advocacy journalist, it's usually said with a sneer but i wear the badge proudly, to reach out to reporter's because of course they do have that soapbox to share these stories with. so reach out to reporter's in your local newspapers, crime reporter's, whoever, and just invite them to spend the day with you. invite them to spend a day looking at just a day in your life as a public defender, a day in the life of you as a parole officer, whatever it is.
and it's a tradition journalist use a lot with cops. we do a police ride along. invite them to do a ride along to step in your shoes and walk in your shoes for a while and really again try to again get the stories that you see everyday out there to the general public. so that's your mission for this year should you choose to accept it. and then i just wanted kind of, you know, in that mode, and that's part of the way i wrote this book to was to look at getting real people's stories and again j ramon, the public defender in georgia was great because they let me follow a trial for a week and a half in georgia and it was great to bring to the public what it was like to be involved in a
capital murder trial. a guy who was falsely imprisoned for 20 years. he was a very eloquent storyteller himself. i'm going to read a short passage about him. today bright 56 six on the porch in new orleans 7th ward and rest on the head of his yellow dog. it's 2012 and he often finds himself amusing over time lost, time wasted. it feels like a minute that i have been out here. it took time to adjust to life on the outside and once on the a dark rainy morning as he found himself biking to his miserable job in
mississippi he felt real despair. from recognized he was 47 years old and never had a car and afford for 20 years in prison. sometimes he says it's little things like that that can drag him down into sorrow. he chose to do something that both keep those wasted years fresh in his memory. he helps to educate others in the hopes that his story will spur reform. he's not an educated man. his formal schooling stopped in 6th grade. the katrina criminal justice reform effort. that's the holistic
reentry program for offenders. he told anybody with time to spare and inclination to listen. putting a face on an abstract idea, injustice. on this particular afternoon in may 2012, he tells this story to me for a fourth time. he is deeply preoccupied with a judge who denied his case for years. who also heard his murder case in 1976. the month he was released the judge died. greg goes to his house to get his tattered obituary he's read many times. the obituary says nice things. the judge may have been a goodman, greg muses, he
might have been a good husband, father, great friend to many people, but people maybe saying the same thing about me. cue, the dog. lifts his head to look around as if considering the matter then he lowers his head to rest his muzzle on greg's shoe. but because i'm a little guy, you step on my head and crush me. i don't even have god on my side. the old boys network that got him a lawyer but when friendly with a judge didn't even work of a sweat when it came to his case. it was a double murder trial that didn't last a couple hours. a flawed defense system rendered that almost meaningless. why?
he says, you know why? sometimes i think about it. he wonders what the solutions are to the criminal justice system here. to the black community, he talks on and on, indignant but right. mostly he wonders how change happens. sometimes i think about what is it, this mahatma gandhi thing. he cracks your head and you say thank you. he cracks your head again. you have to be animal when you do that. it's an outrage. he pauses and collects himself. i'm not talking from bitterness. he says this and yet how can you let go of bitterness. like a dog licking
a wound keeping it open and raw greg bright revisits his past wonders if it's a happy ending because he lives in a yellow house, my pot of gold at the end of a rainbow after finally receiving $190,000 in rest tuition. unending that could go either way. thank you. [ applause ] >> thank you very much. before
[film] >> the judge is going to tell you that the state fails to prove their case. it is your duty, you must acquit. that's the beauty of this system. it's set up to give people the presumption of innocence. to give them an opportunity to not just be heard, but hold the state accountable. you want to take my liberty, you've got to do it right, if you don't acquit. the 5th amendment to the united states constitution guarantees it. as i have made my objection throughout this trial to make sure this kid gets a fair trial. it's not a big case is what they say. they are saying it. they have the gaul to say this is not a big case. there
have any tattoos. i'm going to get the last name of every case i lost. hopefully i won't fill my back up. since this is going on the wall, i feel it has to go on my back. >> when you work as a public defender, you saved somebody and they are like what does that mean? i defend people who are charged with people committing crime. they say how can you defend people? i say it's about the sanctity of human liberty and the cost if you want to take it.
>> most important is trying to keep their moral up and try to keep their best interest at heart. i know for me when i relate to my clients i see them as cousins or brothers or uncles just because it's the face of the black community. so many of them are locked up and of course i'm having to work against their initial impression of public defender because their public defender somehow screwed them. >> how are you? >> good. >> sit over here. how are you? >> good.
>> it's freezing outside. >> you know why i'm here. i'm trying to get a better understanding of the place where you were arrested. let's kind of go through your information. >> what do you do? >> i'm certified mechanic. >> how long have you been a mechanic? >> about 15 years. >> okay. so once you are released and you go back, you will go back to working on cars? >> i will try. since i have been here, i have lost my house and they have broken in and stolen all m